A Student Assistant’s Day in Special Collections: A Snowy Story
by Ashley Reid, Class of 2016
Lehigh University campuses were subject to an especially large onslaught of snow in the Winter of 2013-2014. Classes were frequently delayed while Lehigh staff and volunteers attempted to clear the campus of snow; more often classes were cancelled for the day altogether. This is far from the first time Lehigh’s campus has been relentlessly hit by snowstorms and blizzards during Pennsylvania’s Winter season. A look back at Lehigh’s recent history yields many articles in The Brown and White documenting the snowfall and it’s effects in the early to mid-1990’s.
The day of March 12, 1993 marked the end of classes and the start of a highly anticipated spring break. But, the weather in Pennsylvania on that day was the antithesis of Spring. By 3:00 p.m. the blizzard of ‘93 that would eventually dump more than 15 inches of snow on the Lehigh Valley was in full swing. The Governor at the time, Robert Casey had declared a state of emergency and closed Pennsylvania interstates.
Many Lehigh students planning on travel home or to warmer climates for vacation were in for an unpleasant turn of events when they found themselves instead trapped in airports or snowed in on campus. Keith Sutton, ‘93, a student at the time, gave an account in The Brown and White of how the flight delays caused by the snow cut out 48 hours of planned week long vacation on the sunny Caribbean island of Jamaica. He and his co-travelers were stranded at John F. Kennedy Airport -located ironically in Jamaica, Queens, NY- until 3:00 a.m. on the Monday morning after the storm. He gave some insight into the less than ideal circumstances “We slept on tile and brushed our teeth in bathroom sinks.”
The campus wide inconveniences caused by large amounts of snowfall are a continuous presence at Lehigh during the Winter season. The Brown and White also documented that over a foot of snow fell in January of 1994 on the Lehigh Valley; as well as the emergence of a bitter cold front that originated in Siberia. The enormous snowfall caused classes to be cancelled on the morning of January 18, after 4:00 p.m. on January 19th, and classes were cancelled for the entire day of January 20th. The delays and cancellations disrupted the add/drop period and left professors and students scrambling to make up lost time. The snowfall caused professors and students to fall behind so significantly that in January and February of 1994 Lehigh made the decision to hold classes on Saturday and sunday; an occurrence that hadn’t happened since the late 60s.
This decision was met with a wide range of positive and negative response by the student body. It also prompted The Brown and White to feature an article written by a student with a dissenting view on the decision entitled Weekend classes are not a solution. The student makes the claim that “We [the student body] view this decision as yet another disruptive element in this already muddled spring semester…The semester began three weeks ago, and this is our first full week of school. In another week the university plans to interfere with this long-awaited return to normalcy by suggesting weekend classes.” This students passionate stance has been echoed decades later by many students whose professors scheduled weekend makeup classes because of the snowfall in the Winter of 2014. Finally, the snowfall of the Winter of 1994 may have put a bit of a damper on the semester but The Brown and White also mentions some happier and more beneficial changes brought on by the mass amounts of snow on campus. It appears that when February 14, 1994 came around students accustomed to hopping in cars to celebrate a Valentine’s Day off campus with the object of their affections, found themselves stuck on campus because travel anywhere beyond Lehigh’s bounds was so difficult. Students were forced to diverge from the cliched heart shaped boxes of candy or romantic dinners at restaurants. Instead the weather inspired a more resourceful and creative, homemade approach to the acknowledgement of the holiday.
Looking back into Lehigh University’s history of snowfall exemplifies the fact that although years have passed and our world has changed in infinite ways; today’s student are not nearly as dissimilar as one would think to the Lehigh students that came before them. My research into The Brown and White archives gave light to a wealth of historic documentation and primary source accounts of what life on campus was like in the midst of a Pennsylvania Winter; the parallels between the past and our present were constantly present in my research and distinctly relatable to the Lehigh student of today. Delving into the past is vital for understanding the present, and never fails to provide one with a more contextually concise and complete perspective of the world around them.